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Popular Kheti
Volume -6, Issue-2 (April-June), 2018
Available online at
© 2018
eISSN: 2321-0001

Phenotypic Diversity of Finger Millet (E. coracana) Germplasm

A. Bharathi
Assistant Professor, Agricultural Research Station,
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Pattukkottai 614 602, India

The importance of increased use of genetic resources in enhancing genetic

potential of crops alleviating biotic and abiotic stresses and broadening genetic
base of crop has been very well recognized. Emphasis on the importance of
preserving crop germplasm in recent times has resulted in assembling and
maintaining very large germplasm collections. Large collections of finger millet
germplasm (5949 accessions) are maintained at ICRISAT gene bank, Hyderabad.
Despite such an impressive number of accessions, there has been only limited use
of gene bank material for genetic enhancement of finger millet. For example,
during the period of 1978 – 2005, only two varieties were released namely Lima
(IE2929 originated from Malawi) and FMV 287 (IE2947 originated from India)
released in Zambia in 1987. Several popular varieties released in India since the
1970s, including India, MR and GPU lines, are products of Indian–African hybrid
which involved germplasm accessions of African origin that narrowed down the
variability. The present article briefly describes the finger millet origin,
distribution, taxonomy and the germplasm uses.

Finger millet is a highly self-fertilized allotetraploid (2n = 36) derived from the wild
tetraploid progenitor E. coracana subsp. africana. At present 55 to 60 per cent of the finger
millet crop is grown in Southern and Central Africa, most of the remaining is produced in
India (Rao and Mushonga, 1985). Finger millet belongs to the Poaceae family,
Chloridoideae subfamily, and Eleusine genus. Common names in different language are
tailabon (in Arabic); cǎnzi and pinyin (Chinese); eleusine cultivee, coracan, koracan
(French); fingerhirse (German); ragi (Kannada, Telugu); kelvaragu, aariyam (Tamil);
maduva (in some parts of north India) nachani (Marathi); wimbi (Kiswahili); kurakkan
(Singala) and koddo (Nepali). In several African countries where it is cultivated known by
names, kal dholuo, ugimbi, Kikuyu (Kenya); ceyut, bari (Sudan); mwimbi, mbege
(Tanzania); bulo (Uganda); ambale, lupoko, mawele, majolothi, amale, bule (Zambia) and
apoko, zviyo, njera, rukweza, mazhovole, uphoko, poho (Zimbabwe).

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Origin, Evolution and Distribution

Domestication of E. coracana started around 5,000 years BC in Western Uganda and
Ethiopian highlands and the crop reached the western ghats of India around 3,000 BC
(Mehra, 1963; Hilu and deWet, 1976a; Hilu et al., 1979). Cytogenetically, E. coracana is
reported to be an allotetraploid, from a cross between two wild diploid species. It is
suggested that the two genome donors might be from a group of diploid species, E. indica,
E. floccifolia, E. intermedia, E. tristachya and E. verticillata, all with chromosome number
2n = 18 (Chennaveeraiah and Hiremath, 1974; Hilu and deWet, 1976 and Hiremath and
Salimath, 1992). The genomic notation of AABB is proposed for E. coracana and E.
africana (Chennaveeraiah and Hiremath, 1974). The diploid species are considered to be
potential sources of genome contributors to these polyploid species (Hiremath and
Salimath, 1992). Cytogenetical analysis of the hybrids and chloroplast DNA restriction
analysis of diploid and polyploid species have shown that E. indica is the donor of A
genome to E. coracana (Hiremath and Salimath, 1992), whereas the B genome donor could
be either E. floccifolia or E. tristachya (Hilu and de Wet, 1976). The earlier reports of a
genetic relationship between E. coracana and the diploid species were mainly based on
breeding and cytogenetical studies of hybrids and a few molecular studies (Hiremath and
Salimath, 1992)
History of Finger Millet
The genus Eleusine comprises of ten annual or perennial grasses. These commonly occur in
the warmer regions of the old world, particularly in Southern Asia and Eastern and Central
Africa. However, E. indica has wide distribution in Europe and also in the new world. The
term Eleusine is derived from Eluesis, an old epic city sacred to Demeter, the Greek deity
presiding over agriculture. The term coracana is derived from kurukkan, the Sinhalese
name for this grain. Early botanists (De Candolle, 1986: Watt, 1908) and some later
botonists (Mann, 1946, 1950; Narayaswami, 1952) suggested a probable Indian origin of
finger millet. The earlier authors mentioned that the ancient monuments of Egypt bear no
trace of its cultivation in earlier times; and early Greece- Roman authors did not refer to it.
In India, finger millet is mentioned by Sanskrit writers and referred to as ragi or rajika.
Burkhill (1935) suggested that E. coracana is the cultigen of the wild species E. indica (L)
Gaertn, and that its early selection by man appears to have taken place in India since (a) it
has been cultivated for a very long time there; (b) it has a Sanskrit name, ragi; (c) it was
probably in India when the Aryans reached there; and (d) its spread in Africa from east to
west suggests its introduction from the East. Werth, (1937) opinioned E. coracana
originated in India from where it spread through Arabia, Abyssinia and to the rest of
Based on inflorescence compactness and shape, finger millet germplasm is classified into
races and subraces. Species E. coracana consists of two subspecies africana and coracana.
Subspecies africana consists of two wild races africana and spontanea; and subspecies
coracana consists of four cultivated races namely elongata, plana, compacta, and vulgaris.
Each of these races is further classified into subraces. The race elongata has three subraces;
laxa, reclusa and sparsa; race plana also consists of three subraces; seriata, confundere
and grandigluma; race compacta has no subrace, while the race vulgaris has four subraces,
liliacea, stellata, incurvata and digitata (Prasada Rao et al., 1993).

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Subspecies africana
It is a tufted annual, with slender and geniculately ascending culms that branch at the lower
nodes. Flowering culms are up to 135cm tall, with leaf blades up to 36 cm long and 10 mm
wide. Inflorescence branches are 8- 17cm long and rarely more than 5 mm wide, with the
Spikelets arranged in two rows on one side of the rachis. Spikelets have four to nine
flowers and are 5-8 mm long. Glumes are shorter than spikelet, lanceolate - oblong in
profiles, rarely over 5 mm long and narrowly winged along the keel. E. coracana is
predominately self- fertilized. Subspecies africana, however, crosses occasionally with
subsp. coracana to produce fully fertile hybrids. Derivatives of such crosses are aggressive
colonizers and are grouped under the race spontanea (de Wet et al., 1984).
Subspecies coracana
It includes all cultivated finger millets. Plants are annual, tufted, and erect or with
geneiculately ascending culms that are up to 165 cm high and sometimes root from the
lower nodes.
Race vulgaris: This race is commonly found in Africa and Asia. The inflorescence fingers
are reflexed in subrace liliacea, twisted in subrace stellata, incurved in subrace incurvata
giving fist-like appearance, and top curved in subrace digitata.
Race plana: This race is characterized by large spikelets that are arranged in two, almost
even rows along the rachis, giving the inflorescence branch a flat ribbon-like appearance.
In the subrace seriata, the spikelets are serially arranged giving a typical ribbon-like
appearance, in confundere, the fertile florets are numerous and almost surround the rachis
at maturity thus giving a compact appearance to the panicle and in grandigluma are
characterized by large pointed glumes, which are several times longer than the spikelets.
Race compacta: Members of this race are commonly referred to as cockscomb finger
millets in both Africa and India. Spikelets are composed of nine or more florets, sometimes
with the inflorescence axis divided at the base, ascending and incurved at the tip to form a
fist-like inflorescence.
Race elongata: This race is morphologically the most distinct of the four races of finger
millet (Prasada Rao et al., 1993). It is characterized by long slender inflorescence branches,
digitately arranged, spreading and curved outward at the time of maturity. Subrace laxa has
long open fingers with spikelets arranged in narrow rows on inflorescence branches,
closely resembling wild africana, while subrace reclusa has short open fingers without any
curving out of finger branches. Subrace sparsa also has open fingers but spikelets are
arranged in clusters on the inflorescence branch with naked space in between.
Phenotypic Diversity
Finger millet has not been extensively investigated for the purpose of understanding of
diversity, taxonomic relations and evolution of the crop. Traditionally, diversity studies and
inter- relationship in finger millet have been undertaken using morphological and
cytogenetical traits and methods of numerical taxonomy. As such these studies have been
of limited help to plant breeding programmeme. The research on finger millet was initiated
as early as 1910 by Coleman, and later in 1930 by Ayyangar and his group. Ayyangar
(1931) described variability in inflorescence. Mehra (1963) studied rachis width, stem
width, raceme width, spikelet length, glume length, by metroglyph analysis and
differentiated four taxa such as E.indica, E.africana (wild types), E.coracana (Afro-Asiatic

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type) and E.coracana (African highland type). Kempanna and Govindu (1969) reported the
variation of plant habit, maturity structure and composition of the ear and glume and grain
colour in 78 African collections.
Goud and Laxmi (1977) reported the wide phenotypic and genotypic variations for
tiller number, ear number and ear weight in 33 cultivars. Suyambulingam and Jebarani
(1977) grouped 50 collections of finger millet into 6 clusters consisting major cluster of 34
genotypes. Kempanna and Govindu (1969) reported the range and pattern of variations in
leaf sheath, plant height, maturity and ear morphology in 541 Indian collections.
Kempanna (1969) reported the results of 617 world collections and discussed the wide
range of variations in plant height and maturity. Hussaini (1973) reported the diversity of
640 germplasm lines from the world collection and found highly significant differences
among the germplasm lines for the 18 characters studied. Mallana et al. (1978) reported
variability pattern of 1064 accessions from diverse geographic origins and reported wide
variability among the accessions.
Genetic diversity of 185 finger millet accessions were reported in two locations
ICRISAT, Patancheru and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai
(Geetharani, 2005). She reported mean diversity (H’) 0.022, minimum diversity (0.032)
between IE3101 and IE3220, and maximum diversity (0.464) between IE588 and IE2790 at
ICRISAT location, and mean diversity of 0.149, minimum diversity (0.019) between
IE3196 and IE3952, maximum diversity (0.337) between IE2689 and IE3101 at MSSRF
Upadhyaya et al. (2006) developed a set of core collection in finger millet which
constituted 622 accessions (10.47%) form the entire collection 5940 accessions conserved
in ICRISAT gene bank. This core collection was developed based on agro morphological
diversity, and the core collection represented the entire collection. Upadhyaya et al. (2006
b) developed a set of composite collection consisting of 1000 accessions. Upadhyaya et al.
(2007) reported the diversity pattern of 909 finger millet accessions introduced from
Southern and Eastern African region to ICRISAT gene bank and observed large variability
for days to 50 per cent flowering, plant height and inflorescence length. Bedis et al. (2007)
reported the phenotypic diversity among thirty seven finger millet accessions and identified
significant variability for days to flowering, days to maturity, plant height ear length,
number of fingers, fodder yield and grain yield. Bharathi (2011) studied the composite
collection of ICRISAT finger millet germplasm for quantitative and qualitative traits and
clustering of germplasm based on the biological diversity and geographical region. Other
germplasm characterization studies are 65 germplasm accessions (Patel et al., 2017) and 65
germplasm accessions (Sarjansinh, 2017)

Finger millet is the third important millet crop after sorghum and pearl millet in African
countries and in India. Genetic diversity is basic requirement of crop improvement
programme. The genetic variation within and between species is generated by mutation,
sexual reproduction and selection. Knowledge of germplasm diversity has significant
impact on crop improvement. Efficient use of conserved bio-diversity requires information
about the degree and distribution of genetic diversity.

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